Out of his league
Weis' struggles prove problem with NFL-bred coaches
Posted: Thursday November 15, 2007 12:29PM; Updated: Monday November 19, 2007 1:53PM
Let's start with a fairly obvious realization: Charlie Weis is a terrible college football coach.
Sure, he looked great the past two seasons when he was leading a pair of veteran-laden Notre Dame teams to consecutive BCS bowl berths. One day in the future, he may well do the same.
But when faced this season with the ultimate test of a college coach -- the universal challenge of molding a team full of talented but inexperienced players into a cohesive and successful squad -- Weis has failed miserably. It shouldn't be entirely surprising, after all, he had no prior training.
Regardless of whether Weis' 1-9 Irish win or lose their last two games against Duke (1-9) or Stanford (3-7), Notre Dame's 2007 season will go down as one of the worst debacles ever orchestrated by a college coach. Hopefully, it will also serve as a cautionary tale to athletic directors around the country when hiring their next coach: That leading 20- and 30-something professionals to Super Bowls does not automatically render a coach capable of leading 18- and 19-year-old college kids.
"The college game is about a lot more than Xs and Os," said SuperPrep recruiting analyst and longtime college football follower Allen Wallace. "The Irish have a very intelligent coach. But this season showed [Weis] has a significant amount to learn about the college game and putting a team together."
If the 2007 season has been a learning experience for Weis, Notre Dame is footing an extremely expensive tuition bill.
In October 2005, seven games into Weis' tenure, school administrators decided they'd seen enough from the former New England Patriots guru to merit investing an additional 10 years and more than $30 million in him. Under Weis' watch, quarterback Brady Quinn had morphed from a struggling sophomore into a flourishing junior. Weis was universally hailed for his game plan and play-calling in a near-upset of then top-ranked USC. And highly ranked recruits from around the country were already falling all over themselves to play for him.
It seemed clear at the time that Weis was the perfect guy to return the Irish to glory -- and maybe one day he will. This season, however, a Notre Dame team backed with all the resources an NBC television contract and never-ending stable of donors can buy, and comprised of no fewer than 25 Rivals.com four- or five-star recruits, has not been remotely competitive against most of the teams on its schedule. While one might argue Michigan and USC have more talented rosters, Notre Dame's last two conquerors, Navy and Air Force, most certainly do not.
The coach seems as mystified as the rest of us as to how this could happen.
"The analysis that really has to take place is where, in fact, is the breakdown," Weis said after last Saturday's 41-24 loss to Air Force. "If I had that answer, we wouldn't have the problem."
The "breakdown" Weis refers to is one that's apparently taking place on a near-daily basis on the Irish practice field. Presumably, Weis and his assistants are teaching their players how to correct their mistakes, yet Saturday after Saturday, those same players go into a game and make the same mistakes.
Ten games into the season, Notre Dame's blockers still look helpless against oncoming blitzes. The running backs are still not finding the holes (if there are any). The receivers are still not running the right routes. The defensive backs are still blowing the same coverages.
Either Weis has managed to assemble a roster full of athletes incapable of following instructions (highly unlikely) -- or the coaches aren't getting their message across effectively (more likely). That's where Weis' background comes into question.
The NFL/college paradigm
Prior to his 2005 arrival in South Bend, the 51-year-old New Jersey native had never played or coached at the collegiate level. His credentials for the job were: a) His reputation as an offensive guru; b) his anticipated recruiting cachet, what with those four Super Bowl rings; and c) the fact that he graduated from Notre Dame.
Though Weis himself claims that, "My greatest attribute professionally is as a teacher" -- how much teaching had he really had to do prior to this season? Tom Brady and Weis' other Patriots protégés arrived as fully developed professionals. Quinn and the other veteran stars Weis inherited at Notre Dame had at least played college football. Teaching guys a playbook is one thing; teaching them how to play is another.
"In the NFL, those 53 guys, for the most part, have already figured it out," said USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, who spent the 2004 season as an assistant for the Oakland Raiders. "A lot of these kids coming in, they're so talented, they've gotten away with a lot of things they can't get away with in college -- a defensive end who only uses one pass-rush move, a receiver who runs the wrong routes. Those are the kind of things we have to teach our kids what to do.
"We have to be great teachers. If your technique is wrong, you'll get beat 75 percent of the time."
(Sarkisian was not asked directly about Notre Dame or Weis' performance.)